Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Art of Blindness: Part 2

(Part One)

Blue Baby was content there, at his desk, and he had his completed pages spread out in a seemingly haphazard way, as if once a page was finished he tossed it indifferently aside so he could leap to page 2, or 47, or wherever.  It was nice to make it look that way, in case anybody happened to be watching, but really, he knew where everything was, the pages weren’t slung about randomly at all, and in any case they were numbered.
Besides that, any effect he was shooting for was lost even on him, because just at the moment he was writing, ducked there into the pool of light, one of a thousand worn pencils gripped in his fat blue hand, the yellow paper crumbling up like a caterpillar with occasional clumsy shifts of his steadying arm.  He kept his face down very close to the page, and he imagined that he probably looked very charming and childlike, bent over the paper like that.  All that was missing was his bone-white tongue poking between his lips:  universal symbol of slow-witted concentration.
But he wasn’t slow-witted, and anyway he wasn’t concentrating.  He didn’t need to.  It all came, poured, gushed from the open vein in his mind.  He wrote very fast – though his handwriting was amazingly small and tight – and had, thus far, amassed over four thousand beaten, tattered pages.  Sometimes he liked to flip through those pages and mark the dwindling life of one of his pencils.  Like the first page, words beginning sharp and black, as though they were written with fresh coal.  Then flipping along, you could watch the words growing dimmer, graying with age as the pencil wore itself down, the graphite blunting from a black knife-point to a rounded, glossy, silver stub.  The words hazy and almost meaningless.  Then that pencil’s gone, dead, and a new pencil appears, fresh and young and piercing.
Feeling the need to be consistent, Blue Baby had tried for a brief time to write in blood.  Not his own.  He bought a bunch of those old inkwells, and the pens you dipped, and he thought it looked really nice.  And, from various sources, he’d get his blood, and he’d fill up one of the inkwells.  But, metaphor aside, blood was not ink.  Blue Baby was patient with his paintings, and if you were patient enough you could paint with blood, but he was not nearly so lackadaisical with his writing, and trying to make, for instance, the main line of a capital K took a ridiculously long time.  He also discarded the finger-painting style of writing, as it made the work look like that of a caveman.  You could hardly read it.  The upshot was, at the end of the day there was only so much blood in the world, but pencils seemed to be everywhere.
It all came down to writing fast.  He thought fast, had to get it down fast.  Perhaps one day, when it was all done, and he had all the time in the world, he would copy it out again, transfer what he’d written in pencil on paper onto sheets of human skin, written all in red.  Someday, maybe.
Until then, though, he was plenty happy with his current setup.  He felt it was romantic.  Working with primitive tools, an unpublished writer writes his memoirs at a rickety desk in a dim pool of light.
And while he’s there writing, you can flip through these discarded pages, see what he’s been working on all these years.  What sort of strange and beautiful things he’s seen and heard and thought, see how he’s written it all down.  What Blue Baby thinks about everything.
Here is how it begins:
I see so many people every day who do not know who I am.  I like to sit up high so I can see everything, and in this city there are many statues with tall bases, and I carry along a little folding step-ladder to help me climb up.  The statues themselves mean nothing to me.  Are they statues of famous mayors, or wife-beaters, or generals, or child molesters?  Who knows, who cares?  Not me, certainly.  But to a one, the bases are solidly made, which I don’t suppose is a rare feature among statues.  Still, there are so many of them, and from these bases, where I sit, I can see every wide open space in the city.  I just turn my head, which is like a giant melting blue basketball, and I take it all in.  Buildings, yes, and storefronts, in the windows of which I can see my enormous self reflected in the white of a young lady’s wedding dress. But the people mainly, of course.  The strange thing about the people, however, is that not a single face makes a connection, not a single face, or walk, or swinging lock of hair, tucks itself away in my mind for later recall.  I find this, the non-descriptness of the people, particularly interesting.  Everybody exists for the simple purpose of being meaningless, it seems.  Every man and woman is a joke that is ignorant of its own punchline.  And in each and every face, I can see them trying to remember how the joke goes.  In my youth, I was fascinated by blood – and I will go into this fascination in greater detail later – but in my adulthood I have come to realize that all blood, whethere drained from a human jugular or squeezed from a mouse, is all the same.  I smile at my young self, and how angrily defensive he would get at this idea.  “No!” my young voice would pipe up, “No!  It’s not all the same!  Some is dark, almost black, some is like wine, some is bright red and beautiful…” And so on.  I don’t even know no if any of that is true, if there really are so many shades, though I certainly believed it at one time.  Color, though, shades…these worthless subtleties no longer matter to me, thank God.  No, it’s enough that it is blood, that it is what it is.  That it is the life force of banality and uselessness.  I take this fuel, fuel for a wind-up toy, and I put it to use.  I create what never before existed, and from it all I’m somehow able to wring a kind of ironic meaning.  Perhaps that’s the punchline.  If so, I’m the only one who gets it.
            It went on like this for some time.
 *  *  *  *
            Chim left the man alone, even though he knew he probably shouldn’t.  He’d been coming out of his numbed stupor when Chim burst in, and maybe, in Chim’s crazed state of violence, he hadn’t administered a strong enough dose.  He was actually pleased, Chim was, that he was able to even consider this possibility.  He supposed that the next step would be to no only consider it, but then actually act on it.  But he wasn’t in the mood right now.  He was hungry, however, another reason for him to have stayed.  Before leaving, he had scooped up off the floor a few of the Man’s teeth and swallowed them like aspirin, something he’d never done before.  Even though there was blood on the teeth, they had done nothing to satisfy him.  They were just pebbles.
            Still, he wanted out of there, so he left and headed over to Bozz’s.  It was getting very late now, but the bar would still be open.  Chim wasn’t sure if the place ever closed.  He tried to remember if there was a single hour of the night or morning when he had not, at one time or another, been in Bozz’s, and he couldn’t think of one.
            Bozz’s was a large, empty hole in the middle of the city.  The bar itself was big, a giant circle of wood that wound around a large pillar that reached from floor to ceiling, as if the entire place was a wheel rolling across the city, or spinning through space.  The sides and top of the bar were so battered and chipped that it looked like they were kicked nightly by a pack of angry hoofed animals.
            Along the walls, nothing hung.  No photographs, no paintings, no mirrors, not even lights.  What light there was came from above.  The ceiling was white, and shone down.  And because it shone everywhere, you’d think it would make things far brighter than they were, but Chim figured Bozz kept things dim because, after all, it was a bar, and bars were dim.  It would be very strange and disconcerting to get flat-ass drunk and then find yourself looking up into the sun.
            Behind the bar stood Deuryde, and she was about the only person left.  There were a few shapes lost in the shadows, lifting glasses to their lips, but it was very easy to forget they were there until they tried to leave without paying.  Even then, it didn’t concern Chim, so as he walked across the room, dim as whiskey, he felt like it was him and Deuryde, that was it, and that Deuryde was there to tell his fortune.
            What Deuryde was really there for, however, was to be beautiful, and this she accomplished with ease.  She was very young, maybe not even twenty, and her hair was long and brown and lovely.  She sometimes tied it in a ponytail, when she wanted to look like a schoolgirl.  Her skin was like lightly shaded crystal, delicate and hidden.  And tonight, she was just beaten down – she’d been working who knew how long, and she must be figuring at this point that she’d never get home, wherever that was.  She looked half asleep when Chim reached the bar.  She didn’t flip her hair or wink when she saw him.  She didn’t angle for a big tip.  She was past that tonight.
            “It’s late, Chim,” she said.  “You should be home.”
            “Doing what?” Chim asked.
            “Whatever you do.  Sleeping.”
            “I can’t sleep much.  Never could.”
            “I almost envy that,” Deuryde said.  “I’d feel a whole lot less like shit if I couldn’t sleep.  Or if I couldn’t get tired, anyway.”
            “Well, I’d sleep if I could, but my place, I can’t even stand my place,” Chim said.    “It’s such a fuckin’ pit.”
            “I got a pit, too,” said Deuryde, pouring Chim a double Scotch.  “It’s comfortable, though.”
            “I bet it’s not a pit.  I bet you got a nice place.  Probably keep it clean and it smells nice.”
            “Well.  I guess it smells fine.  But it’s a pit.  Everybody lives in a pit around here, even Bozz.”
            “Shit,” Chim snorted.  “I don’t buy that.  Bozz’s place gotta be twice’s big as this place.”
            “How much money you think he makes off’a here?  He used to sleep in one’a the back rooms, till he needed it for storage.  No, Bozz’s place, I mean it’s nicer than mine, but it’s no, you know – “
            “Then I guess he pisses his money away, then,” Chim said.  “I drop enough’a what little I got into this hole that he shouldn’t, uh…”
            “Whatever,” Deuryde said, shrugging.  “It’s late, and I want to sleep.  That’s about all I got on my mind right now.”
            Chim drank his Scotch, pushed the glass out to be refilled, which she did.
            “And not everybody lives in a shithole,” he said, as though she hadn’t just changed the subject.  “You know a guy named Blue Baby?”
            “I know who he is.  I think I’ve seen him.”
            “His place ain’t big, but it’s nice.  It’s got character.”
            “My place has character.”
            “Mine don’t.  Place looks like a fuckin’, like one’a those, like a storage room.  You said that Bozz slept in.”
            “It wasn’t a storage room when Bozz slept there.”
            “Well, that’s what my place is like.  A fuckin’ storage room.  All with boxes an’ shit an’ clothes everywhere.  Gray floors, gray walls.  It’s why I can’t sleep, who can sleep in a place like that?  I got a bed, but, well, a mattress.  But I lie there with the lights off an’ I feel like I broke in, like I’m some bum who crawled in through a window so I don’t get rained on.  I, it’s just – “
            “Chim, clean it up, then.  God, you got hands.”
            “I do clean it up!  I keep it neat, most times, but I don’t even like to go there.  I go there to eat, that’s all.  And to sleep, when I can.  Otherwise, I’m out doin’ stuff, or out over with Blue Baby.  I should be able to sleep there tonight, though.  I’ll be drunk.”
            “I bet I could sleep there, at your place.  I can sleep anywhere.”
            “Why don’t you try and see?” Chim asked.  He couldn’t even muster a smile.
            “Pretty weak, Chim,” she said, and she didn’t smile either.
            He shrugged, drinking his Scotch, then saying, “You said you could sleep anywhere, I thought why not with me,” and he thought of her back at his place, lying naked on the floor where the Man used to be, and he wouldn’t have to stick her with anything, he could just lie on top of her and she’d be warm, and he could lay there all night, taking bites out of her.  Only when he was deep into her throat would she start to move, but it would be reflexive, involuntary, and would end soon enough.
            “I said sleep,” she said.
            “It was just a stupid joke.  Fill me up again.”
 *   *   *   *
Sometimes I wonder [Blue Baby wrote much later in his memoirs] why there are so many people in the first place.  All of this talk about Crowther and myself, and out time spent on board the Patterson, our aloneness there, and the fact that I still wasn’t completely ate peace until Crowther succumbed to his illness, reminds me of this question.  I now understand that that if Crowther had not died it would have been necessary for me to kill him.  His presence had managed to grow unbearable witout him ever having to do anything.  And yet, when I finally reached shore and was greeted by a blnking field of stupid eyes and squawking mouths, why didn’t I grab my blade and go into a mad spiral, try to wipe everyone from the planet, save myself?  Well, I was a bit of a loon by that point, no doubt, but I wasn’t that far gone.  If the thought did cross my mind – and it is likely that it did, though I can’t remember now – I must have known it would have been fruitless.  I know of men who did mean to rid the world of everyone but themselves.  I even know of one man who wanted to murder the world, and then kill himself, after which he felt he would become God.  An ambitious goal, to be sure, but I’m afraid that particular fellow has missed the point.  After dumping Crowther’s disease swollen corpse overboard, I very briefly knew the exquisite bliss of an empty planet.  Just me and the planet.  If I didn’t think it sounded like the title for the autobiography of some star of the musical theater, I might even use that phrase, Just Me and the Planet, as the title of these memoirs.  But really, who could take me seriously with a title like that?
 *   *   *   *
            Chim sat in a chair and smoke a cigarette and looked at the Man stretched out there like a corpse, or body that had never even been alive to begin with, and that those goddamn fucking eyes were just something the manufacturer screwed into the plastic sockets, and somebody along the factory floor had forgot to paint.  He wanted to pluck them out and swallow them or crush them and tell Blue Baby, when he got here, that No, he’d forgotten, it had been some other guy, an earlier one, who’d had the eyes.  This guy actually had no eyes.  Sorry.
            “You awake?” Chim asked.
            “Yes,” the Man said.
            “You know we’re gonna have a guest today?”
            “Are we?
            “I don’t care.  Why bother telling me?  Do you expect me to prepare for company?”
            “I’m just telling you.”
            “Well, I don’t care.”
            “It’s Blue Baby coming over.  He wants to take a look at you.”
            “…He wants…what does he want?  He wants to look at me?”
            “Yeah.  He wants to check you out.”
            “For what?  Who is he?”
            “He’s a guy I know.  He’s an artist.  He wants you eyes.”
            “…My, he wants my eyes?”
            “Yeah.  You can’t see out of them, can you?”
            “I – “
            “So he wants them.  He wants to paint with them, or write about them, or some fucking thing.  I don’t know.”
            “Good God.  God, just let me go!  Why’m I…why, just let me walk out of here!  I’m blind, what can I say?  I can’t do anything to you!  Please, Jesus Christ, I just want tot leave!”
            The Man was managing to cry.  Chim hadn’t known he was able to do that.
            “Yeah, well,” Chim said, “he’ll be here soon.”
            Then, just like on TV, someone heavy started knocking on the door.  Chim looked around to the door.  Blue Baby had actually shown up.  He must be really interested.  The only other time Blue had come to visit Chim was when Chim had a woman there who had been naturally bald and had an artificial nose.  Blue Baby had left disappointed for reasons that were still unclear to Chim, and Chim had tried several times to lure him back with descriptions of other oddities and deformities found on different parts of the people he kept, but none, until the Man, had interested him.
            So now he’d succeeded, Blue Baby was here to pay him a visit, and he’d take the eyes and say Thanks, and then leave.  So long, Blue.  Let me lookit what you did to the eyes when you’re done.
            He got up and went over to the door, turned the knob, let Blue Baby in.  Blue’s wide grin was close-mouthed, concealing his toothless gums.  This was the only part of his appearance that seemed to cause him pain.  Or, at any rate, the only part he could conceal.
            “Hey, Blue,” Chim said, mustering a smile.
            “Hello, Chim,” Blue Baby said, himself mustering a patience before getting on with things that he didn’t actually possess.  “How are you?”
            “I’m fine.  Didn’t sleep much, but I’m fine.”
            “Oh, I never sleep myself.  But I’m sorry for your, you know…your discomfort.”
            “Thanks.  Come in.”
            Blue Baby had to turn his body slightly to slip into Chim’s home.  Once he did that there was nowhere to sit, which hadn’t occurred to Chim before, but struck him now.  Yet it didn’t strike him with the force it normally would have, with the same swirl of shame and fear that would wash away any of the joy he might have derived from the situation, because now he felt no joy, or very little joy, and what little he did feel sort of clung helplessly, out of nostalgia.  Sort of, Wouldn’t it be nice if this was making me happier?  In place of his nervous happiness was depression and jealousy, and he felt this deeply as he watched Blue Baby stare transfixed at the motionless body of the Man.  And it wasn’t the Man he was jealous of.
            “My God,” Blue said.  “Look at that.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.  His eyes.  My God.”
            “Sorry I don’t have a seat for you,” Chim said.
            “No, no, that’s fine.  That’s, I don’t even think I can stay that long.”
            “Why?  Where do you have to go?”
            But Blue moved past Chim, his giant shaking sides pressing against the walls and knocking empty soda cans and liquor bottles onto the floor.  Chim looked with a new wondering disgust at Blue’s size.  Instead of making his meager home look even smaller, Blue somehow mad the place look vast:  any place that could contain him must be big.
            “Son, are you awake?”  Blue was talking to the Man, but the Man didn’t answer.  “Son?”
            “He’s awake,” Chim said.  “I was just talking to him.  I don’t – “
            “Son,” Blue said sharply, and kicked the top of the man’s head with his heavy black shoe.  “Talk to me.”
            “Get the hell away from me,” the Man said, and Chim heard that strain of rage that had never been absent from his voice, even when he was begging for his life.
            “You can’t see, can you?” Blue asked, ignoring the display of defiance.  “What happened to your eyes?  Did something happen to you to make them like that?”
            Nothing from the Man, but Blue still didn’t seem impatient or put out.  Instead, he began to circle the Man’s body, his foot brushing roughly over the Man’s face, stepping on his arm.  Blue’s giant legs bent slightly, and he peered with an amazed intensity into those blank domes, those eggs, those golf balls.  That’s all they were to Chim, just that, but to Blue Baby they were what?  They could be anything, presumably.  They could be everything.  Maybe to Blue there were two separate planets, complete and individual, and once he go his hands on them he would proceed, very carefully and with great attention to beauty and magic, to plunder them.
            Maybe that’s what Blue planned to do.  Chim didn’t know.
            “Those are marvelous, those eyes,” Blue said.
            “They’re hard as rocks and I can’t see at all,” the Man said.  “And they’re mine.  If you want them, I can’t stop you, but I hope you choke to death on them.”
            Smiling, Blue said, “Chim told you I wanted your eyes?”
            Nothing from the Man.
            “Well, I do,” Blue went on.  “But you seem to be confusing my motives with my friend’s.  Chim swallows things, not me.  I’m going to make something quite beautiful with your eyes.  But I don’t guess you care much about that.”
            The Man remained silent.
            Blue Baby kept grinning, and now he straightened up with a heavy sigh and turned his smile to Chim.
            “Wonderful,” he said.  “Just what I’ve always wanted,” and he laughed a little.
            Chim grinned back and said, “I’m glad.  I’da probably just thrown them out.”
            “Well, they’re wonderful, and I thank you so much for letting me have them.  I can’t take them now, however.”
            “Why not?”
            “I’ll be gone all day and almost through the night, and I don’t want them to get damaged along the way, or leave them alone at my house.  I could come by again in the morning to get them, that would be perfect.  Then I’ll have all day tomorrow with them.”
            “Oh, that’s fine with me,” Chim said.  “Either way.”
            “Good.  Thank you again.  They’re amazing.”
            “Okay.  Nice to see you, Blue.”
            “Yes.  See you tomorrow.”
            Blue Baby stumbled to the door and let himself out without another glance or wave behind him.  Chim had to shut the door himself.  Then he looked back over at the Man, and he no longer saw his survival stretched out on the floor, but precisely the opposite.  What a monster I’ve let into my house, he thought.  What a putrid, disgusting monster.
            His eyes drifted to one of the Man’s hands.  One gray finger, the index finger of his right hand, was beginning to twitch and curl against the floor.  Chim stared at it for a long minute.

            “I’m goin’ out,” he said, and he was gone.

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